Friday, October 20, 2017
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What is Restoration Day?

Capotillo 1863 - photo credit noiticiastonysosa.blogspot.comThe Dominican Republic is one of the few countries in the world that celebrates two independence days, with the main one celebrated on 27 February marking the country’s independence from Haitian rule and the second one, called Dia de la Restauracion (Restoration day) celebrated on 16 August, marking the day Dominicans started fighting to reclaim their independence from Spanish rule for the second time in the 19th century.

To explain this anomaly we need to go back to the beginning of Hispaniolan history, which is as unexpected and quirky as it gets. Read about the history below and celebrate Restoration Day with Dominicans this upcoming Sunday.

Spanish rule & the decline of Hispaniola
Columbus taking possession of Hispaniola - image credit WikipediaSpanish rule of the entire island of Hispaniola effectively started when explorer Columbus inadvertently landed on its shores in 1492. The local Taino population didn’t survive the diseases brought into the country by the settlers. Those that did survive didn’t live long under the harsh conditions of colonialism, as the Spanish made them work in gold mines and developed the sugarcane industry. The need for imported slave grew and led to an exponential increase in the importation of slaves in the first thirty years of the 16th century.

The harsh conditions led to the first slave uprising in 1522 on the sugar plantation of Columbus’ son. Many insurgents escaped to the mountains where they formed independent maroon communities. Despite the uprising Spain continued to import large numbers of African slaves to feed the sugar cane industry which dramatically increased Spain's earnings on the island. Many slaves however also escaped to the mountains creating bands that would rob anyone.  By the 1530s, the ex-slave bands had become so numerous that the Spaniards could only safely travel outside their plantations in large armed groups.

Pirates in the Caribbean sea - image credit history.comAt the same time, the Caribbean Sea was made unsafe by numerous French pirates, who were later joined English and Dutch pirates. The event that ultimately killed the lucrative sugarcane industry was the fact that Havana, Cuba’s capital, was officially designated in 1561 as the stopping point for the merchant flotas, which had a royal monopoly on commerce with the Americas.

As interest in the island waned over the years any remaining Spanish settlers relocated to mainland America where more interesting riches were up for grabs effectively leaving the island in the hands of bandits and pirates, except for the capital Santo Domingo where some legal trade was still happening.


Creation of Haiti
Sugarcane - photo credit WikipediaFrench buccaneers set up camp in the island of Tortuga on the Western side of Hispaniola and little by little annexed the western side of Hispaniola for the French flag. The western side of the island was officially ceded to the French in 1697 under the Treaty of Ryswick, and their part was called Saint-Domingue. The French sent a great number of African slaves and strongly developed the sugar and coffee industry on their part of the island. With the help of extensive irrigation systems set up in the 1730s as well as inexpensive slave labor that worked under extreme conditions Saint-Domingue became the biggest sugar exporter in the world together with Jamaica, making it one of the most lucrative colonies in the Caribbean.
 

Independence from the Spanish the first time round
On 9 November 1821, the former Captain general in charge of the colony, José Núñez de Cáceres, influenced by all the revolutions that were going on around him, finally decided to overthrow the Spanish government and declared independence from Spanish rule, this would usher in an Ephemeral Independence, as the nation would be united with Haiti shortly after.


Re-unification of the island
Once independent from the Spanish crown, local politicians and military officers felt it was interesting to unite the entire island, as they sought for political stability and support under Haiti, which at the time was still seen as having a great deal of wealth and power despite having declared its independence from French colonialism in 1804 after a thirteen year-long bloody slave revolt.

20_francs_or_Charles_X - image credit WikipediaHaiti's president, Jean-Pierre Boyer, promised his full protection and support to the frontier governors, and ceremoniously entered the country with around 10,000 soldiers in February 1822. Despite initial enthusiasm, the Haitian government became extremely unpopular throughout the country. The Dominican population grew increasingly impatient with Haiti's poor management and perceived incompetence. When heavy taxations were imposed in 1825 to help pay for the indemnity payments claimed for Haiti’s independence by France the Dominican side rebelled on many occasions.  


27 February 1844
Fortaleza Ozama - photo credit WikipediaIndependence from Haitian rule was finally obtained after rebels seized the Ozama Fortress in the capital on 27 February 1844, which is the day that the main independence day is celebrated on. The Haitian garrison, taken by surprise and apparently betrayed by at least one of its sentries, retired in disarray. Within two days, all Haitian officials had left Santo Domingo. Political activist and military man Matias Ramon Mella headed the provisional governing junta of the new Dominican Republic. On March 14, Juan Pablo Duarte finally returned after recovering from his illness and was greeted in celebration.


Back into Spanish hands
Pedro Santana rose to power in 1857 after uprooting his predecessor who had brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy while lining his own pockets. Three years later Santana wrote a long letter to Queen Isabel II asking for the Dominican Republic to be re-instated as a colony of Spain as he feared a Haitian invasion, after only 17 years of independence. The Spanish complied, but annexation of work animals by the Spanish military and an inflexible archbishop quickly alienated the local population. Rumors that the Spanish would reinstate slavery and the eviction of Haitians living along the Haitian–Dominican border led to the Haitian government siding with the Dominican rebels.


Restoration monument on cerillo del capitol - photo credit imagenesdenuestrahistoria.comRestoring independence
On 16 August 1863, a new group under the leadership of Gregorio Luperón and Santiago Rodríguez made a daring raid on the capital Santo Domingo and raised the Dominican flag on the Cerro de Capotillo. This action, known as El grito de Capotillo, was the beginning of the war, which was fought on behalf of the Spanish by Santana and an army of mercenaries, and on the other side by Luperon and his followers.

The war lasted for two years and proved to be extremely unpopular in Spain, costing over 33 million pesos and with over 10,000 casualties, much of them due to yellow fever. Despite being a superb military tactician, Santana found himself unable to break the rebels’ resistance. In March 1864, he pointedly disobeyed orders to concentrate his forces around Santo Domingo and was rebuked, after which he was relieved of his command and ordered to Cuba to be court-martialed. Santana, however, died suddenly before he could be deported, sparking rumors of suicide. On 3 March 1865, Queen Isabella II signed the annulment of the annexation, effectively giving back the Dominican Republic’s independence.


Festivities
Festivities to celebrate Restoration Day take place throughout the island, but the most prominent celebrations are in Santo Domingo and Santiago. Customary festivities include parades, street fairs, and performances of the national anthem and other compositions. Troops will also present a military review before government officials.


Inauguration date of new presidents
In a symbolic gesture, the country also celebrates democracy every year on the “Día de la Restauración”, with the President giving a speech outlining his performance throughout the preceding year as well as highlighting the progress of the country. Every four years, when a new President has been elected, this is also the day when he (or she) takes power.

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